Hadar Cohen - January 31, 2012
Photo by Hadar Cohen.
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Moti Milrod
The scene of an Israeli woman's murder in October 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod

The suspect himself greeted the beat policemen who hastened to the apartment on Balfour Street in Bat Yam in response to a call about a murder. "I murdered her," said the man, and held out his hands to be arrested. "We are divorced, we had a fight," he added right after the killing two weeks ago.

In the adjacent bedroom Esther Avraham's corpse lay on the floor, riddled with eight bullet holes. She was in a high-risk category for murder victims - a divorced Ethiopian immigrant woman - according to the violence-against-women index prepared recently by the Public Security Ministry, and which is reported here for the first time.

Since 2008 there has been a steep increase in the proportion of divorcees among female murder victims, while women of Ethiopian origin accounted for 21 percent of the women murdered during the past year - more than 13 times their proportion of the population, 1.5 percent.

The report, titled "Women in the Crosshairs," was prepared in advance of the Elimination of Violence Against Women Day, which will be marked next month by the Public Security Ministry, the Israel Police and women's organizations.

The violence index was constructed from data on murder, robbery and sexual violence reported against women from 2003 until end of 2011, and is broken down by the victims' age, family status and religion.

The index shows a startling rise in the frequency of cases of violence against single women (from 60 per 100,000 women in 2003 to 1000 per 100,000 in 2010 ) - a nearly twenty-fold increase.

And according to the survey of 800 women from various sectors of the population, 76 percent of Jewish women and 79 percent of Arab women report living "in constant fear" of sexual assault. The survey found that one in every three women can expect to be sexually assaulted during the course of her life.

Commenting on the report, police say they take "a grave view" of crimes of violence against women and are operating "a specialized, professional and skilled system in the area, deployed in all the police units and accompanied professionally by the crime victims department, and are holding training sessions and reviews in a consistent and close way." They also noted that "the police force is in close contact with the various welfare services and aid organizations and is a member of an inter-ministerial committee dealing with the murder of women by their partners. Moreover, "in recent years an experiment has been underway at about 16 police in which a social worker is integrated into the station and accompanies complainants, suspects and investigation teams."

Public Security Ministry director-general Rotem Peled adds that "the findings of the study will help in better understanding the phenomenon and the problems and needs of various groups in Israeli society, including women."

'Only 20% of cases reported'

However, women's organizations protest that even if there has been progress with police response to violent crime against women, the problem remains grave. "Most of the incidents don't get to the police and most of the cases that do come in to the police are closed by them," says Rinat Kedem-Bart, director of an aid center in Jerusalem for sexual assault and rape victims. She said only 20 percent of cases are reported and 75 percent of the complaints are closed by police and never make it to the indictment stage.

The age group most frequently victimized by murderers was women aged 18 to 24 (two out of every 100,000 ); about one-third of murders took place within the family, and another one-third on the street. Most murders took place after 5 P.M., and the past several years saw an increase in murders late at night and on weekends.

By religion, the proportion of Muslim and Druze women murdered (two out of 100,000 ) was more than double the proportion of Jewish victims. However, the proportion of Arabs among women being murdered by their male partners is decreasing. In 2009, nine of the 11 women murdered by their partners were Arabs; in 2010, it was 10 out of 15; in 2011 it was 11 out of 24.

At the women's organizations they explain that in Arab society, there are cases of women who are murdered but are still listed as missing. "The police can't declare a murder without a body," says Rivka Neuman, director of the Division for the Status of Women at WIZO Israel. To have an idea of how many women are actually murdered in Israel, says Neuman, it is necessary to know the number of women missing in Arab society.

Large gaps between religious groups were also found in cases of sexual violence - and the report notes that the difference stems from "structural under-reporting" of crime in Arab society. Thus, while Jewish women account for 76 percent of the total population of women in Israel, they constitute 83 percent of the victims of sexual assault. Muslim women constitute about 16 percent of all the women in Israel but account for 6.5 percent of the victims of sexual assault against women. Eighty out of every 100,000 Jewish women have experienced sexual violence as compared to 20 among every 100,000 women belonging to other religious groups in Israel.

According to the index, sexual crimes are still the most common kind of crime affecting women and remain significantly more common - 3.5 times more common - than similar crimes against men. Between 2003 and 2011 there were 60 cases of sexual violence against women for every 100,000 women, as compared to an average of about 17 total cases of sexual violence against men. The most alarming statistic is that about one-half of all victims of sexual violence are minors, while the proportion of girls and young women (up to the age of 24 ) is far greater than that of older women (nearly 200 cases on average for every 100,000 girls and young women, compared to about 75 or fewer for every 100,000 women over the age of 25 ).

Going by marital status, sexual assault against divorced women (about 150 cases on average per 100,000 women ) is far more prevalent than against other women. But while there has been a decline in the number of such cases among divorcees since 2004, there has been a startling rise in the frequency of cases of violence against single women (from 60 per 100,000 women in 2003 to 1000 per 100,000 in 2010 ) - a nearly twenty-fold increase.

The index also shows that most cases of sexual violence - more than 40 percent of those reported - happened in either the victim's or attacker's home.

'Ball in PM's court'

"The police force has been through a process with sexual assault. Today there are new procedures and the police are also subjected to scrutiny by the media, and this has its effect," says Kedem-Bart, "but the figures are still grave. One out of every four women experiences an attempted rape - that's a terrifying figure."

She adds: "This issue will not be resolved before there is a prime minister here who determines that this issue is at the top of the agenda, and who will allocate the suitable budgets for it. It's not just the police. It's an issue that has to get attention from all the agencies in the state."

WIZO's Neuman concurs. "The numbers don't matter; the bottom line is that women in Israel are being murdered and murder is not a decree from heaven," she says. "It seems, however, as though the authorities do perceive the murder of women as such. The law on the prevention of domestic violence will mark its 21st anniversary this year and the fact is that there is still a lot to improve and correct."

She singles out for censure the legal mechanism for the issuing of restraining orders. "The mechanism today endangers women. It's the women who inform the violent man of the restraining order against him and not the police, and this is just one small example of what still goes on." Another 10 percent of the assaults were committed at an educational institution. Most of the cases occurred between 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., and in recent years there has also been a significant increase in sexual assaults late at night and early in the morning, particularly on weekends.

In a survey conducted in January 2012 to examine how secure Israeli women feel, it was found that most of them still fear the possibility of sexual crimes in the workplace, places of entertainment and at home. According to the survey of 800 women from various sectors of the population, 76 percent of Jewish women and 79 percent of Arab women reported living "in constant fear" of sexual assault. The survey found that one in every three women will be sexually assaulted during the course of her life. While in the overall population, 16 percent of the women reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a stranger, in various sectors, higher rates were found - the highest being among former Soviet immigrants, 38 percent of whom reported having been sexually assaulted by a man they didn't know. Fourteen percent Jewish women said they had been sexually assaulted before they turned 16.

At the women's aid centers it was noted that 30 percent of the calls they receive are from women complaining that they were sexually assaulted before they turned 12, but only decided to complain about it many years later. In all the centers receive about 40,000 calls a year - half from women saying they had fallen victim to rape, attempted rape or gang rape.

Regarding cases of mugging and robbery, the proportion of women victims has fallen: In 2003 more women than men got robbed, but since 2005 men are robbed on average 1.5 more times than women (35 per 100,000 men, 25 per 100,000 women ).

Moreover, widows and divorced women accounted for more incidents during the entire period than did single and married women (about 100 cases on average per 100,000 women in general, 40 per 100,000 among married women, and 10 per 100,000 among single women ). Women aged 65 and over, as well as women 18 to 24 were robbed more often than women in other age groups (about 60 and 50 cases per 100,000 women, respectively ). Most robberies occur between 8:00 P.M. and 4:00 A.m. and more than half of them occur on the street.

Breaking down the numbers by religion, Jewish women are robbed at a very much higher rate than women of other religions (about 30 cases on average per 100,000 Jewish women in recent years, as compared to less than 10 cases among Muslim women ).